Myth Makers

“If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.” — Joseph Campbell

We human beings are myth-makers. As far as we know, no other species on Earth creates myths, although we don’t have evidence to prove other animals can or cannot make myths. But, since we stepped out of Africa some 1.5 million years ago and evolved into what we are today, Homo sapiens, we have created millions of myths and metaphors that guided, inspired, and defined us and our civilizations and cultures right to this moment. Without our ability to create myths our existence today could be debatable; indeed, myths are what help make us human.

However, many myths that were once our lighthouses have either been destroyed or weakened as our knowledge of the Universe excels exponentially. Ironically, as our scientific ability increases and improves, myths once sacred often become quaint stories that we consider interesting but untrue. The problem is since myths are vital to our existence in terms of guidance, inspiration, and definition, with what do we replace the ones devalued?

Added to the devaluation of myths is our attitude about myths. We have a tendency to see myths as untrue, fanciful, or akin to fairy tales, which are also within the realm of myths. We teach this attitude toward myths to our children, and they grow to disregard myths altogether. Even though public schools often touch upon myths as part of English language arts, there is usually no depth to the lessons; and if time is short, teachers drop them in favor of more important topics. However, teaching mythology is vastly important, and ignoring them is tantamount to ignoring grammar.

Indeed, everything discussed above is extremely bold. What authority says myths are that important to our lives and civilizations, to our cultures, and to our very definition of who and what we are?

MYTHS AMONG US

Can we define myth? It’s harder than one believes in that most definitions are not aim; whatever we say a myth is, many times, is inarguable, at least to us individually. Such as these from dictionary sources:

  • an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true
  • a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence
  • such stories as a group
  • a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
  • a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society seduced by the American myth of individualism. — Orde Coombs, author, and editor.
  • an unfounded or false notion
  • a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence

The list of definitions of myth seem legion, but all of them reflect personal points of view of the “definers”. Here’s mine, for what it’s with, and the one I’ll explore in this essay: A myth is my point of view of occurrences in life that defy empirical evidence but nonetheless have elements suggestive of truth. What, then, is the difference between myth and opinion. Perhaps the difference is that opinions can be and often are easy to prove right or wrong, but myths are not so easy to deny because they are layered with meaning. For example, the Vietnam War happened; it is a fact. My opinion of the war is that America had no business participating in the war. Where’s the myth? The North Vietnamese were not communists so much as they were patriots defending their country against foreign invaders. Although an aspect of that myth is opinion-like, the keyword patriot makes it a myth.

Indeed, the mythology surrounding the word patriot is overwhelming. Does it simply mean love of one’s country? The topography? The food? The institutions? The government? Or, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” Nailing “patriot” onto something tangible is impossible because it means entirely different things to different people. Thus, it takes on mythical proportions.

Now, Joseph Campbell, the celebrated researcher, writer, and lecturer of comparative mythology, believed that people could not understand their individual lives without mythology to aid them. By recalling the significance of old myths, he encouraged awareness of them and the creation of myths for the contemporary age.

Robin Williams — Truly Unique

Not only was I shocked when I heard Robin Williams was dead, but also deeply saddened. My condolences go to his wife Susan Schneider, and his children Zelda, Zachary, and Cody as well as us, his fans worldwide who stand in grief at this moment.

Unique is a word we hesitate to use unless the subject of the adjective is truly one of a kind. Robin Williams was unique. Julliard Academy, as superlative as it is, was too small to hold him, even with a scholarship and gifted actor/director A.E. Housman as his professor. Even his mentor and protegé Jonathan Winters failed to keep up with him; Williams backed Winters off the stage with his powers of improvisation, probably the best in the world.

Indeed, I am not a mental health person, no expert, but in retrospect, I think Williams’ lamentable suicide was ironically anticipated by his enormous talent, which allowed him to always be someone else. Did we ever meet Robin Williams? He was Mork, he was Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam!”, he was the genie of Aladdin’s lamp, he was a Bengal tiger on Broadway, he was a gifted teacher, he was a gifted shrink, he was a crazy guy in search of the Holy Grail, he was a woman caring for his character’s children, etc., etc.; wherein all that was Williams?
To be sure, in his improvisations we met myriad people he created instantly, without hesitation.

I have fought depression in my life, still do, in fact. Having been an actor at one time and a teacher of acting for several years, I know the comfort of escaping into a character, into someone else. Most actors come back, but a few cannot, and I think Williams was one who could not. Although no one will ever know what was in his mind when he committed suicide, I dare say he may have met Robin Williams for the first time in many years. It is possible he didn’t like who he met, but I don’t think so. I think he delighted in meeting himself, and his suicide was his way of protecting himself against the “slings and arrows” he experienced as a child.

According to the biography, published today in the Roanoke Times, Williams came from some wealth. He grew up in a 30-room mansion in Detroit, but evidently, he was alone a lot and created his own world. Reportedly, he had some 2,000 toy soldiers for which he created 2,000 voices! Williams presented us with so many voices we may never have heard his.

As an actor, he could hide behind a character, which always seemed to be him in its innumerable persona. I had a friend, a fellow actor, who wore a mask for many years. Indeed, I met the real person only briefly before he went home one night, crawled into a bathtub for of hot water, and slit his wrists. His girlfriend found him. He had won the best actor award the night before, and his girlfriend said he was on top of the world, happy, laughing, and making plans for future performances. What she didn’t know was that he made a decision, one that relieved the stress that had dogged him for years. He knew who he was, at last, and wanted to protect that person. Death by suicide was his means.

I will miss Robin Williams desperately. I admired him and his talent so much that he became my improvisation teacher; I passed his technique, as much as I could, to my students. He was, as someone said, a beacon. But, again, ironically, not a place his beacon could lead us except as actors. If there is an afterlife, Williams is doing stand-up now, he is improvising brilliantly, and he is pushing every other actor off the stage. There was no one like him, and there never shall be. Unique!

(Note: This is all my opinion. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but I had to say it. If you read it, thanks. If you did not read it, thanks.)

The Equivicators, or Iron Chefs, if You Will

Callie Cabaniss ‘n me, or me ‘n Callie Cabaniss.

The Chefs! Callie Cabaniss and I! One of us is the sou chef and the other is the head chef. Okay, I confess; I’m the sous, Callie’s the head: An eight-year-old Martha Stewart. She is a force, a presence not to be ignored. She is Terry’s granddaughter and an absolute delight to be around. On the day we were photographed, it was Thanksgiving, maybe 2008 or 2009; I don’t remember. All I know is, we had fun.

Truth is, I’m a wannabe chef. I love to cook, so it is an honor to be Thanksgiving chef for Terry’s family. A joyously exhausting day every year.

Another truth is, I’m a wannabe writer. Just as I love to cook, I love to write, and I do every day, either as a blogger or as a curmudgeon contributor to the editorial section of our local newspaper The Roanoke Times. 

I authored two novels — For the Heart’s Treasure and Children of Bast. As time passes I’ll refer to them often, but please read them. They are available at amazon.com (what isn’t?) as trade paperbacks and e-book (Kindle). At smashwords.com they are available in several other reading platforms.

I am a retired secondary teacher — English and Theatre Arts. Having four pets, Terry and I are serious animal lovers. Three dogs — Rufus, Mackey, and Spankie — and a gorgeous Burmese tomcat Cody who is the color of a Hershey bar with eyes like shiny pennies. We had two cats, but my old friend Millie (shown on my home page) died January 18, 2014. She was 18 years old. I shall miss her extremely.

There is more about me, but I think this is enough for now. As you read my stuff here, and I sincerely hope you do, I will reveal myself little by little. And, I want you to comment, good, bad or indifferent. I love people and want to know what they think.

  

Religion Raises its Pervasive Head

Everywhere you look, religion is obstructing our lives in areas it has no business interfering.

The latest impediment slathered with religious liberty is the case of Hobby Lobby vs Sebelius, as in Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Resources. Hobby Lobby, founded by fundamental Christian David Green, does not want to pay for insurance to provide the “morning after pill”, and the “week after pill”, both mandated under the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that it is contrary to their religious beliefs. The corporation views the contraceptive medication as tantamount to abortion because they believe that life begins at conception when the egg is fertilized.

Indeed, Hobby Lobby is contending that provisions of the ACA are stepping on their religious principles and want to be exempted from the mandate regarding these pills. They have no objection to other lists of contraceptives included in the bill.

If this issue were just about Hobby Lobby’s religious convictions regarding only these drugs, the Supreme Count case might not be very important. But, the implications for the nation if SCOTUS agrees with Hobby Lobby (Conastoga Wood Specialties, Inc. and Autocam Corporation are also named in the suit with Hobby Lobby) are horrendous.

In an article published in Forbes by staff writer Clare O’Conner, dated 3/31/2014, Jon O’Brien, president of pro-choice faith group Catholics for Choice, is quoted as saying, “Religious freedom is a bogus argument by those who want to use religion to discriminate.” Catholics for Choice took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post last week asking: What’s happening to the separation of church and state?

O’Brien went on to say, “The idea that a corporation has a conscience is for many of us completely ridiculous. It’s granting power to business owners with extremist religious beliefs.”

The bottom line is, religion has no place in issues of this sort. Religion is, as it has been for time immemorial, an excuse to break the law, kill people, conquer people and land, and refuse to help people in need. For all its fundamental Christian ideals, Hobby Lobby and the others involved, conveniently play the religion card but forget that their Messiah turned NO ONE away for any reason. They’re not Christ-like; they are capitalist opportunists hiding behind religion for their own gain.

A religion of any flavor is menacing when used by people to harm others or to shield themselves from public censure. Invoking religion as an excuse usually stops disagreement: God told me to do it is the universal reason as to why it’s all right to do evil.

Isn’t is interesting that we can criticize most anything except religion. We can condemn politics and politicians, harp about the use of public funds, but go after religion and we’re denounced as attackers of a god. Why should religion get a pass?

Homosexuality, which is not a problem, is made a problem by religion. Homosexuals are murdered in places throughout the world. Surprisingly, America is further advanced relative to homosexuality than much of the rest of the world. Fred Phelps is dead, but his specter remains in many Americans who condemn homosexuality on the grounds that God hates it.

Yes, the Bible does have passages condemning homosexuality, but until we see the Bible for what it is — a repository of myths that many want to believe are facts — we will continue to see it used to refuse people their rights. Why should take orders from a book that dates to the Bronze Age?

We are in the 21st century. It is time for all gods, particularly Yahweh, to join the pantheon of Greek deities as interesting creations but hardly relevant?